Thursday, January 15, 2015
Hero in motion
Gloucestershire has a long border with Herefordshire, and it’s not really surprising that, in the west of the county, there are some examples of work by the renowned Herefordshire school of Romanesque sculptors, the artists responsible for churches such as Kilpeck and glorious works like the font as Castle Frome. One Gloucestershire example is the tympanum at Ruardean in the Forest of Dean. This shows St George killing the dragon, and a wonderfully vigorous carving it is, even if not quite up to the stellar standard of Kilpeck.
St George is on horseback, his mount stretched somewhat horizontally to fit the space, his cloak streaming in the wind, his spear entering the dragon’s mouth. There’s the usual linear quality seen on many Herefordshire school carvings – it’s visible in the dragon’s head, the folds of the cloak and the saint’s ribbed lower garment. The horse is doing a good job of helping its rider by treading all over the dragon’s long, serpent-like body.
The horse’s elongated form, the blowing cloak, and the angle and thrust of the spear all give the carving a dynamism, as if the saint has made his strike while his mount is still moving at some speed. It’s an eye-catching image (it exhibits a wonderful collection of undulating curves that I find really effective), if not as well carved as some – Malcolm Thurlby in his book* on the Herefordshire school suggests that it may have been the work of an assistant to the master carver. Whoever did the work, it does a good job of conveying the power of the galloping horse and the thrust of the deadly spear.
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* For more information on the Romanesque sculpture of this area, see Malcolm Thurlby, The Herefordshire School of Romanesque Sculpture (Logaston Press, 1999)